Shortly after I returned from a trip to Vouvray in 2013 a massive storm swept through the appellation dropping hail the size of golf balls. The damage to the vineyards was devastating. The ‘lucky’ winegrowers only lost 50% of their crop, many lost 85% and others lost everything. The financial loss to the winegrowers was crippling. It was a catastrophe for the region and there was speculation that some winegrowers wouldn’t recover. The result was that there wasn’t much Vouvray in the world for a couple of years.
Now think of the winegrowers of Vouvray. It’s June, the night is cool and you awaken to the sounds of pebbles falling on your roof – and the sound grows until it becomes a pounding – and you’re thinking about your vineyards. Then the worries start, how much of your crop will you lose, or will you have any at all? How far does the storm extend? And unlike wheat farmers here, who can depend on crop insurance to cover much of their losses, they can’t buy similar insurance for their vineyards because it is not available, so how will you take care of your family, and what happens to your business? The next morning you tour the vineyards your family has farmed for generations and the carnage exceeds your worst nightmares. The vines are nothing more than twisted, split sticks protruding from the ground, and broken grapes lie everywhere. The loss is total. No wine will be made this year. Think this can’t get worse, well, think again. What if this is the second consecutive year you’ve suffered major weather related losses, when frost was the problem the year before…
Thinking back upon it now reminds me that wine is a very precarious thing. One easily forgets that the bottle on your dining room table was once grapes in a vineyard. When the Apple store runs out of IPhones they increase production, but when the grapes are gone, they’re gone until next vintage, hopefully. Being an artisanal winegrower usually means that you live on the jagged financial edge. These are usually small family businesses that produce delicious and unique wines of time and place, and we are proud to import and sell them.
The next time you open a bottle of wine Google the winegrower and check him or her out. Unless you are drinking some sort of mass produced industrial wine you will find a picture of the person who made it. Now I ask you, how remarkable is it that the wine you’re about to enjoy with dinner was made half a world away by a relatively obscure single person or family?
All too often it takes a tragic event to make us appreciate the everyday things we take for granted. The hailstorm I described above destroyed 85% of the crop of Francois Pinon, one of our wonderful winegrowers, and brought home to me the human dimension of my business. Wine is not a product like a cell phone, iPhone or lawn mower. Each of our wines is the product of an individual, not some nameless, faceless mass from an unknown part of the world marketed under a corporate name. Our wines represents a life’s work, they represent places and moments in time captured in liquid form.